Hell hath no fury like a Hoosier threatened with the loss of paddling schoolchildren.
That was apparent from the overwhelming reader response to Thursday's column advocating an end to corporal punishment in schools. E-mail and phone messages ran 20-to-1 in favor of hitting children. Can you believe you are reading this? Obviously, for most of you, the answer is yes.
Essentially, the reader message was this: Kids today are out of control. Paddling is one sure way to get a child's attention. Teachers must have "the board of education" at their disposal, because parents no longer care enough to discipline children. Paddling lets kids know behaviors have consequences. A teacher who paddles is sending a message that somebody cares.
Thankfully, a few brave spanking proponents raised a key question -- to the effect of: "OK, if teachers don't paddle, what are their other options? How do they punish kids who appear impervious?"
Aha. So glad you asked.
"Apparently impervious kids" inspired this flap in the first place -- six third-grade boys from Indianapolis Public School 48. They were paddled March 17 after fighting -- their teacher believes they were in a gang. She asked another teacher, a man, to administer punishment. He did, after getting the OK from five of six parents. The mom who was not notified later took her son to the hospital, where bruises and welts on his backside were documented.
Opponents of corporal punishment correctly maintain it makes no sense to hit somebody for hitting.
"We know there is a significant correlation between violence perpetrated on kids and kids perpetrating violence in turn," says Bill Glick, head of the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force, which works with juvenile offenders. "We send kids to school to learn and become socialized. If they learn that hitting is a tool, what do you think they will do?"
Studies show the children most likely to be spanked at school are minorities from low-income families.
"You don't hear about this happening in Carmel, do you?" notes Rep. John Day. He is the stalwart Indianapolis Democrat who has repeatedly introduced legislation to ban paddling, to no avail.
His point is backed by 17 years' worth of studies from Temple University and the U.S. Department of Education. Black students are hit two to three times above the average. Black boys are most likely to get the paddle.
So, if teachers don't hit, how do they reach kids who are defiant and disruptive?
Sarah Lieber-Hale works with exactly that population at The Villages, a statewide child welfare agency. She frequently asks them what punishment they would set for themselves.
"They would much rather take a beating than say 'I am sorry' or write a note of apology or in some way learn to be personally accountable for their actions," she says.
"Having to be personally accountable is what they dread most."
As for the six IPS boys, here are some other punishments from Andrea Marshall of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana.
"Have them do community service -- do something for somebody else, or for the person they tried to hurt. Have them clean the school. If they lied, have them go before somebody they respect and admit it, or write an essay about lying."
Finally, it's significant that none of the state's 10 juvenile detention facilities or any of its 24 adult prisons permits corporal punishment. Nor is it allowed at responsible institutions that treat disturbed kids.
Those places know, the hard way, that kids who are hit will hit back.
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